The land of fire and ice has some of the most beautiful and diversified landscapes. Iceland is capped by blue and white glaciers which spill down into open fields of black volcanic rock covered by brilliant green mosses and grass.
With so many beautiful sites easily accessible from Iceland’s picturesque ring road, it’s easy to forget about the less accessible but equally beautiful options for your adventure. We chose to get up close and personal with one of the many glaciers on Iceland’s southern coast.
Glaciers are beautiful, impossibly-massive rivers of ice which are created by the weight of countless layers of snowfall.
Glaciers move downhill, imperceptibly slow with a crushing weight on the underlying mountain stone. They dump the pulverised rock they collect along their slow journey into piles at their farthest point of advance called moraines. When the glaciers retreat, the moraines mark their previous extent.
With a knowledgeable guide to point out the moraines you get an eye-opening understanding of just how much and how fast glaciers are disappearing due to warming climate.
The Skaftafell Nat’l Park tourist center is complete with showers, bathrooms, an information desk, and doubles as a base for many excursions. In addition to the picturesque Svartifoss waterfall a short two mile hike away, the Skaftafell Nat’l Park tourist center is the home of Icelandic Mountain Guides.
This outdoor company offers a huge range of excursions including day trips, multi-day trips, and extensive expeditions. We chose to join one of their day hikes to the Svínafellsjökull Glacier Tongue and it did not disappoint!
Icelandic Mountain Guides is a team of young, outdoorsy people from all over the world who will keep you entertained during the duration of your adventure. Before they drive you to the glacier, they will provide and fit you with crampons and an ice axe to ensure your safety during the hike. The crampons are metal spikes that slide over your boots and ensure you don’t lose your footing and slip into a crevasse.
You’ll be driven from their offices at Skaftafell Nat’l Park tourist center to an access road near the glacier. After an easy walk to the edge of the glacier the guide will give you a short safety brief and explain how to put on and use your crampons.
The guide will lead you onto and over the glacier, explaining what you see along the way. They were extremely knowledgeable and very enthusiastic about their work.
During warmer weather each year the glaciers melt and sometimes small ice caves are formed exposing brilliant hues of blue. As the exposed layers of compressed ice warm further, they form less dense white ice crystals on their surfaces. The guides go out ahead of the groups and find safe caves for you to explore. Each season of melting is different, exposing new caves and features no one else has seen.
The actual walk on the glacier is slow going with plenty of time for photos. If the weather is clear, you’ll have an amazing backdrop of mountains with the upper portion of the glacier disappearing around the bend.
How to Get There
Follow the Ring Road (Route 1) until you reach the turn off for Skaftafell National Park. Continue along that road until you see the Tourist Information Center on your right. Directly next to the parking lot you will see the small cabin for Icelandic Mountain Guides where you will check in and get fitted for your crampons.
Have you ever tried glacier hiking? Let me know in the comments!